How to Dye Unfinished Wood

How to Dye Unfinished Wood - an easy way to get color onto your craft wood items both inside and out!

Not too long ago, one of my blogging friends – the awesome artist and designer (and blogger) Laura Kelly – suggested I try dying some of the unfinished wood pieces that I love to work with, as an alternative to painting.

Laura’s suggestion reminded me of an episode of the Christopher Lowell show. Remember his awesome show, when the Discovery Channel actually ran DIY programs back in the day? Christopher had someone demonstrate how to dye a wood table, and although I never tried it myself, it obviously stuck in the recesses of my mind ever since. (It’s amazing what’s stored in there…)

So… not only did Laura make this fun suggestion, but then she offered to send me some Rit Dye products from her craft stash for me to try out. I said, “Hell yeah!” Well, actually I typed something much more polite, but “hell yeah!” is what I was thinking!

How to Dye Unfinished Wood using Rit Dye

As this would be my first time dying wood, I gathered a nice array of unfinished wood craft items to try:

Unfinished wood pieces from the craft store are perfect candidates for dying!

Other supplies:
large all-purpose bucket
Rit Dye powder in Tangerine
large plastic bags to cover your work area
rubber gloves
wooden skewer or stick
paper towels

Step One: Make the dye bath

Following the package directions on the box of Rit Dye, I mixed in the entire package of powder with two quarts of hot water. You want the water to be hot as the wood will absorb the dye better. I mixed the powder into the water using a wooden skewer.

Here’s a picture of the dye bath, ready to go.

This image shows the hot water dye bath using Rit Dye in Tangerine, a vibrant orange shade.

Oh wait – what’s missing in this picture? Let’s pan out a bit for a better look, shall we?

Make sure you have your area properly protected against any dye spills. Even a speck of dye powder, once wet, can dye whatever surface it's on.

Step Zero: Prepare and protect your work area

Yes, this is Step Zero on purpose, because I forgot to put any type of protective covering underneath the bucket and around my work area. Learn from me here: make sure you have your area properly protected before you begin working. Luckily my husband was nearby and saved me big-time!

Step Two: Immerse the wood pieces into the dye bath

I put all of the wood items into the bucket, and used the wooden skewer to keep pushing the top items down so they would be fully immersed in the dye. I did this for 15 minutes, making sure all areas of the wood were being dyed.

Step Three: Remove the wood and set aside to dry

After 15 minutes, I carefully took the wood pieces out, one at a time, being careful not to splash any of the dyed water around. Here they are drying nicely on some white paper towels on top of a garbage bag:

Unfinished wood dyed using Rit Dye in Tangerine, a bright orange color!

Step Four: Seal the wood

Once fully dry – I actually let them dry for 24 hours just to make sure – I sealed them with an acrylic sealer.

And that’s all there is to it! It really is that simple. And quick. I especially like how the dye covers everything, including the insides of the boxes and lids.

Step Five: Decorate and embellish further as desired!

Here’s a look at a cute decoration I made for Halloween last week. You could adapt this for other occasions or seasons. I simply glued on a vintage image I had previously printed out, glittered, and sealed. Then I used glue dots to attach the buttons. The letters were adhesive-backed already. I tied some black vintage seam binding through the handle’s hole to hang it up.

Halloween plaque made using an unfinished dyed wood piece.

I think clowns are usually creepy, but this Victorian one didn’t seem so bad! And I love the brightness of the wood as the background for all this color too!

Halloween plaque closeup, using dyed wood, buttons, adhesive letters and a vintage image!

There’s so many ways you can decorate your dyed wood items.

Stop back tomorrow, as I’ll be sharing two ideas for decorating dyed wood boxes, including using more dye!

An unfinished wood box, dyed orange, in only 15 minutes!

Have you dyed wood before? Trust me, it’s fun!